Time to make it hot

Rebel trio hoping for fresh start in Arizona

Aaron Douglas, standing at left, and Tyler Clendenen spot for former Maryville teammate Brent Burnett at Dynabody in Maryville.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Aaron Douglas, standing at left, and Tyler Clendenen spot for former Maryville teammate Brent Burnett at Dynabody in Maryville.

Aaron Douglas assist Brady Hall with his workout on Monday.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Aaron Douglas assist Brady Hall with his workout on Monday.

The high today in Yuma, Ariz., will reach 114 degrees.

It’ll be 95 by 9 a.m.

It isn’t expected to get a whole lot better when the Arizona Western College football team begins arriving for summer workouts on Monday.

The average daytime high for Yuma in July is 107.

Brent Burnett wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m really excited to get out there and get started,” the former Maryville High School quarterback said.

Burnett and former Rebel teammates Aaron Douglas and Tyler Clendenen are heading west to restart their college football careers. The Matadors are getting three players who know a lot about winning in the process.

After finishing the Maryville careers an unbeaten 60-0 after four seasons, Clendenen, Douglas and Burnett first went their separate ways for college. Burnett, a Mr. Football-winning quarterback his senior season in 2007, signed with Middle Tennessee State University out of high school. Douglas, a two-time Mr. Football tight end as Rebel, followed his father, David, and mother, Karla, to the University of Tennessee.

Clendenen, Burnett’s favorite receiving target at Maryville, packed his speedy cleats and set off for Tusculum College.

Each redshirted their first year at their respective schools. The extra time to heal from a high school shoulder injury helped Douglas earn freshman All-American honors as a Vol.

None of them were happy, though. Coaching changes at each of their schools played a part.

“We were all unhappy with our situation for different reasons,” Douglas said.

Douglas was about to start his third head coach in two seasons with the hire of new Vol coach Derek Dooley in January. Off-the-field troubles, battling depression among them, were also taking their toll. Burnett, who’d shown well in last season’s New Orleans Bowl, completing one of his two touchdown passes on the year, was in no mood for his third offensive coordinator with the Blue Raiders in two seasons.

“I knew I was going to transfer before the semester ended at Middle,” Burnett said.

Clendenen, Douglas and Burnett said they each weighed their options, but following Burnett’s lead quickly emerged as the way to go. When the record-setting Rebel passer decided to visit Arizona Western, Clendenen and Douglas tagged along.

“I wasn’t really considering the juco route at first,” Douglas said. “By the end of the trip, we were pretty solid about going out there.”

Leaving the schools they’d signed with for Arizona Western was tough on all three, but Douglas’ decision to leave the Vols was especially tough.

David Douglas had played right tackle on Tennessee’s 1986 Sugar Bowl-winning team. Aaron would move from tight end to tackle under one-year head coach Lane Kiffin last season, going on to earn freshman All-American honors. He would wear his father’s No. 78 as well.

Adding more to the legacy equation, Karla Horton Douglas had been member of Pat Summitt’s first national championship team at Tennessee.

When a combination of factors led to the realization it just wasn’t going to work for him at Tennessee, Aaron informed Dooley before spring practice he was leaving the program. The backlash from Tennessee fans was often scathing.

“I bleed orange,” Douglas said. “I’m always going to love Tennessee. You can’t take that year away from me that I had at Tennessee, but, with everything going on over there, this is in my heart. I felt this was the best decision for me.”

It took a while to get going again, he said. Keith Harris, a family friend and owner of Dynabody Fitness in Maryville, hired Douglas for the summer to get the ball rolling. Burnett, Clendenen and Douglas have trained at Dynabody the last three months. After dropping to 245 pounds during the spring, Douglas has muscled back up to 275.

One the nation’s top recruits his senior year at Maryville, Douglas could easily have left Tennessee for another Division I program. Rather than sit a year after transferring, he said he felt it important to get back on the playing field as fast possible.

“I’ll think I’ll benefit more by just playing games,” Douglas said. “It’s a heartfelt decision, and I’m rolling with it.”

A fresh start in Arizona could pay off in more ways than one.

“They told me I’ll be running tackle and tight end drills,” Douglas said, “so I’ll probably have two jerseys.”

The number on the jersey had a lot to do with Clendenen joining Burnett and Douglas in Yuma.

Burnett first sent the Arizona Western staff footage of his days at Maryville. After looking it over, and advising Burnett they liked what they saw, Burnett said the Western staff next asked: “’Who’s No. 11?’”

Clendenen said he’d talked to Tusculum coaches about playing time this spring. By then, though, like Burnett, he’d already made up his mind to leave.

“I was supposed to be in the rotation (this fall),” he said, “and I guess I didn’t want to take the chance.”

Clendenen said he looked at his options when the decision was made to leave Tusculum, but there really was no choice at all. He’d flourished his senior year at Maryville running under Burnett’s passes. The chance to do so again was not to be missed.

“I was going to go out there myself if they didn’t go,” Clendenen said. “I want to go to Division I.”

The Matadors can sure help in that regard.

Arizona Western was 9-2 a year ago and seventh in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll. The Matadors saw four players earn junior college All-American honors, including national rushing champion Reggie Bullock. Thirty-one Arizona Western players have gone on to play for four-year schools since 2007. A total of 79 Matadors have made the leap to NCAA Division I schools since the turn of the millennium.

Still, tickling 100 by 9 a.m.?

Could be worse. One of the 11 teams on the Madators’ 2010 schedule - Scottsdale Community College - has one of the unique nicknames in all of sports. Scottsdale prides itself on being home to the Fighting Artichokes.

Must be the heat.

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